Old Fort Niagara

Written on January 12, 2014

While in Buffalo, I visited Old Fort Niagara with my Grandmother and her long-time, live-in boyfriend, Gordon. I hadn’t been to Old Fort Niagara since a field trip in 4th grade, of which I have fairly vivid memories. I believe I even built a popsicle stick replica of the grounds as a school project.  It was fascinating to see the Fort again and once again learn about its rich history.

The Fort is located at the mouth of the Niagara River, on the shore of Lake Ontario outside of Youngstown, New York.  First held by the indigenous Iroquois Nation, a Fort was erected by the French in the 1720s after nearly 50 year of intense fighting with the natives. Over the course of the next century and a half, it played a pivotal role granting  and protecting trade access throughout the Great Lake region. Control of the Fort bounced between the French and British, later serving as an outpost for the American Revolution. The Fort was expanded upon and later used as a training facility during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I. During WWII, the Fort was used as a POW camp for 1,200 German Soldiers captured in North Africa. It was then made into an  emergency housing facility for returning US veterans. The US Army finally deactivated the Fort in 1963. According to Wikipedia, the “Bottoms” area is still in operation as a base for the US Coast Guard, making the Fort one of the longest continuously run military bases in the United States, from 1726- present day. An in-depth history is given on the Fort’s website here.

The treasure of Old Fort Niagara is the “French Castle,” erected on the site by the French in 1726, though the Fort had already been established and held by the French for the past 50 years. Originally a trading post, it was later expanded to include defenses against the British. And then, of course, there are the British reenactors! With muskets!

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The drawbridge had been recently renovated and was very impressive. The moat would have been the entire Fort’s latrine. Imagine trying to swim in that.

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Grandma and a very young, nervous reenactor.

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Apparently, the Fort is haunted. The most famous spirit is a headless ghost that supposedly haunts the French Castle.

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The French Castle is truly gorgeous– renovated to show the various historical uses it has served over the past 250 years.

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If you ever find yourself in the Niagara Falls area, I highly recommend this jewel of a historical site. It’s well worth the trip. On clear, sunny days, you can see Toronto across the Lake. The surrounding waters are also popular for sail-boating. Seeing tiny ships out in the water from the walls of the Fort give further context to how important this area once was for trade– it was truly a gateway to the west!

Buffalo City Hall

Written on November 20, 2013

At the beginning of September, I shuffled off to Buffalo to visit my grandmothers, old friends and other assorted family members. I had a variety of adventures, including touring City Hall, re-visiting Old Fort Niagara (hadn’t been there since 4th grade) and ghost hunting at one of the most haunted sites in the country, Rolling Hills Asylum. We’ll start with Buffalo’s beautiful Art Deco masterpiece, City Hall. Though I have been inside several times, this was the first official tour I’d ever had. I forced my grandmother to come with me. The free tour was through Preservation Buffalo and was packed with people visiting from all over the country and abroad. There were at least 2o people in the group, and we were some of the only “locals.”

Here’s an excellent video from Buffalo Tours giving you a better sense of the history than I could ever give about the building:

Getting older, man. It makes you appreciate the places you’re from. I used to watch concerts on Thursday afternoons in the shadow of this building. Hell, I saw Echo & The Bunnymen in the square, 10,000 Maniacs…

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What I appreciate most about City Hall is its steadfast refusal to let history be forgotten. Every decorative element of the building recognizes the contributions of its citizens and their dedication to labor and industry. Engineering, industry, agriculture, and academic, scholarly pursuits are all depicted in stonework and murals throughout the building.

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The tile mosaic patterns on the arched ceiling are symbolic of the Iroquois Nation, which shared the shores of Lake Eerie and Ontario.

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William de Leftwich Dodge, an accomplished muralist, painted several murals in City Hall in 1931. This one depicts the relationship of Buffalo to nearby Canada. Here’s a great (old) website that goes into the details of each of Dodge’s murals. Truly fascinating. Unfortunately, they were lit exceedingly poorly as the city does not have its own City Hall on a preservation plan.

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This plaque is dedicated to fallen Polish Soldiers, reading, “This plaque was presented to the people of the City of Buffalo by the Polish American Citizens Organization in memory of their fellow brothers – prisoners of war – massacred by Soviet Russia in Katyn Forest in the Spring of 1940.”

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Four statues in the lobby represent the characters of good citizenship– virtue, diligence, service and fidelity. These are absolutely stunning and dramatically lit from below, casting judicious shadows.

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A bust of Grover Cleveland, who first served as Buffalo City Mayor before being elected President several years later.

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Gorgeous, intricate brass work on the elevators in the lobby.

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Apparently my Great Grandfather worked for Otis Elevators– my grandma was excited to see this detail in this restored car.

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Next stop was the Mayor’s office, which felt rather cool and not very well decorated. Apparently, the current Mayor loves aquariums, so he had one installed in the office.

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On the thirteenth floor, we came to the gorgeous Council Chamber. Using an Iroquois design, a stunning stained glass sunburst dominates the room, diffusing the light, acting as a blessing but also a reminder that business conducted in this room is under the watchful gaze of the heavens and all eternity. Below the sunburst, carved into the wall, the phrase “The People’s Councilors Reflect the People’s Will” appears as a daily reminder to those who enter the chamber of their purpose. The woodwork is inlaid with walnut and carved symbols of wildlife decorate doors and paneling. Pillars surrounding the chamber list the characteristics needed in ethical government fortitude, philosophy, knowledge, industry, achievement, charity, patriotism, prudence, wisdom, and concordia. Apparently, this is one of the finest city council chambers in the United States, so acoustically balanced that microphones are unnecessary.

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At the top of City Hall is the observation deck, boasting one of the best views of the city skyline, as well as the shipyards and Great Lakes. Unfortunately, it was pouring when I visited, so I didn’t get the majestic panoramas I had hoped for.

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This kind of history is truly lacking on the West Coast, this certain kind of blue collar industrious nature and fortitude. It makes me miss Buffalo, snow and all.

Staircase, Olympic National Park

Written on November 13, 2013

A few days after returning from Hurricane Ridge, I went for a small day hike in another area of the Olympic National Park, Staircase, which skirts the Skokomish River. Densely forested, with gorgeous mosses blanketing the forest floor and surrounding trees, I hadn’t visited the area in several years. A beautiful new suspension bridge has been installed after a winter storm washed the old one away several years ago. The bridge completes a nice and easy hiking loop which crossing the river and follows its banks there and back again. I was accompanied by friend Avi, who gladly took me up on a dare involving touching the Dog Vomit Slime Mold. Yes, this is a thing that totally exists and yes, it is absolutely disgusting, which makes me want to poke at it with sticks all the more. We also saw a ton of gorgeous Indian Pipe which is otherworldly in appearance and has many medicinal uses.

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Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Written on November 13, 2013

I can’t believe it’s been two months since my last post. I am totally blog back-logged. September and October were some of the busiest months I’ve ever had. Classes started at the end of September, I currently have a solo exhibition up at WSU Vancouver showcasing some rad new prints, I was invited to speak about my work at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and on Friday, I give another lecture/demonstration at WSU Vancouver.

I have thousands of photos sift through and then edit from the summer/early fall still, let alone a trip to Buffalo to visit my grandmothers and brother, and a small excursion to the Grand Canyon.

Suppose let us begin with the end of my several day Pacific Northwest getaway, at the very end of July. From Shi Shi beach, I went to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park– from the shining sea to purple mountains majesty in less than a day. That, my friends, is the kind of magic that only happens west of the great Cascades. If you can dip your toes in the ocean, and within 24 hours walk those toesies into a snow patch on top of a mountain in the middle of summer, you might be in one of the most splendid National Parks in the country.

After I left Shi-Shi in the afternoon, I hiked back to my car and left for Port Angeles where the entrance to Hurricane Ridge is located. Hurricane Ridge is one of the most popular places in the Olympics, offering stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, which I can gaze upon from afar almost any day from Olympia as they border the view of the Puget Sound. It was pretty amazing to stand on top of those mountains with that particular view in mind. I made it into the park in that evening, thankful that the majority of the sites in the campground were first come first serve. I picked a spot, popped my tent, started a fire and made dinner. I promptly passed out after I ate.

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I must have gotten up around 5AM. I tore camp apart, packed my car, and was on the winding road up the mountain by 5:30, not another car to be passed for hours. I enjoyed having the sunrise to myself, shared only with the multitude of deer I passed along the way. I stopped at several paved viewpoints, but my goal was to get to the top of the mountain so I could have the Hurricane Ridge trail all to myself, the greedy, aloof hiker I am. When I reached the Ridge parking lot, I was the only car parked in the vast concrete lot. On the hike out around noon, I was incredibly thankful I had made it there so early, as all the wildlife had decidedly hidden themselves from the throngs of loud, gaudy groups of tourists ascending the mountain as I was leaving.

So here, then, are a series of photographs of my early morning hike up Hurricane Ridge, amongst wildflowers and marmots.

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Shi-Shi Beach

Written on September 11, 2013

From Cape Flattery, I drove to the trail head for Shi-Shi (pronounced Shy Shy) beach, also located on the Makah Reservation. For overnight parking, plan to park on the front lawn of a private residence– be warned parking is ten dollars a day. Overnight parking is not permitted at the trail head, which is heavily patrolled. I did not know this, and I’m lucky I had cash on me. It also adds another mile to your hike from the lot to the trail on an asphalt road. Once you hit the trail head, you walk several miles through reservation land to get to the Olympia Park boundary. The trail was fairly muddy through unremarkable second growth forest for the majority of the hike, though the first mile was nicely manicured with boardwalks. From the mud patterns, I realized that I lucked out; for the majority of the year, large areas of the trail become massive unavoidable mud pits requiring boots for navigating.

Once you hit the Park boundary marker, there’s a small kiosk with permits if you hadn’t already obtained a backcountry permit for overnight camping and paid park entrance fees (I had purchased both at the Quinault Ranger Station on my way up the coast). From there, it’s a quick descent down a 150 foot cliff. Quick– not easy! There are a series of rope easements to assist with the sheer switchbacks navigating huge root-systems from the surrounding trees. It looks more treacherous than it is; on my way back, I saw several families with small kids making their way to the beach.

I snapped this with my iphone on the way down:

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After finally reaching water level, I made my way through the trees to the beach. By now, it was 5pm. It had been about an almost two hour hike and I was tired and hungry. The coast was still totally socked in, so the breathtaking views I had only read about were nowhere to be seen. There were a few tent sites already set up but definitely not as many people as I was expecting. It was a Thursday, but still the height of summer in the Pacific Northwest. I hiked in as far as I could, keenly aware of the tide lines in the sand. I found a little site surrounded by driftwood logs and pitched camp there. Gathering wood, I made a small fire and cooked dinner. Just as I was settling in for the night, the fog lifted and I was finally able to see in the distance the mile-long archipelago of sea stacks that make this beach so famous.

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I passed out in the tent, waking briefly in the night as the ocean reached high tide. I had to check that it wasn’t going to sweep my tent away! The waves were so loud. Upon waking at the crack of dawn, I found that the tide was out– waaaaay out– and the resulting tidepools were some of the best I’ve ever seen!

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I grabbed a small back and began the mile walk down the beach just as the sun came out. The beach was gorgeous, more beautiful than I had ever imagined and photos truly don’t do it justice.

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After a magical morning of exploring, the early afternoon heat began to rise. I had to get out of the sun. I came back to the tent for a respite before packing up camp and hiking back to the car. This experience was the second time this summer where I hadn’t planned properly and didn’t bring enough water. If I had had more water on hand I probably would have stayed another night and foregone the Hurricane Ridge adventure I had planned for the following day.

I’m glad that I stuck to my plans, however, as there is nothing quite like being on a remote, wild beach one morning, and a mountain top talking to marmots the next.

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Cape Flattery

Written on September 8, 2013

At the end of July, I took a small road trip around the Olympia Peninsula, visiting several sites in the Olympic National Park. One of my first stops was Cape Flattery, the northwestern most point in the contiguous United States. The cape overlooks where the Strait of Juan de Fuca joins the Pacific Ocean. It’s located on the Makah Reservation and is considered sacred land. Unfortunately, the coast was too socked in to see Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery lighthouse, just off the tip of the cape.

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If the coast wasn’t so socked in, you’d be able to see Tatoosh Island and the Cape Falletry lighthouse beyond this windswept Sitka spruce.

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Badlands National Park

Written on September 5, 2013

Headed west back to Olympia after the Ladies of Letterpress conference, I spent several hours driving through Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I wish I had more time, but I was in a hurry to get home. This was the second time I have driven through the park; the first time was back in 2001 while moving to Portland, OR. I had the fortune of camping a night the first time, and I remember the complete vastness of the night sky, having never seen so many stars in my life.

This time, I was able to see the park at end of June, as opposed to the beginning of August, so the landscape was still lush with green grasses instead of dried brown. The sky was dappled with big, white puffy clouds allowing the myriad colors of the canyon to appear between scorching sun breaks. Again, hiking the back country would be a dream. However, I’ve never felt such thirst in my life, as my water supply was exhausted halfway through my adventure. By the time I got to Wall Drug, all I could think about was ice cold water– which is exactly how they made their business thrive through the 30s, 40s and 50s. Free Ice Cold Water.

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